For 35 years, the Goodman Theater’s A Christmas Carol has been a Chicago tradition like the Cubs’ losing or hotdogs without ketchup. These traditions work because they are classic, and for the most part, Tom Creamer’s adaption of A Christmas Carol works beautifully and effectively. The show is a retelling of Charles Dickens’ novel about a man, Ebenezer Scrooge, who has lost himself and the spirit of Christmas as he ages, and is forced to reevaluate his actions as he is visited by three ghosts, past, present, and future. Ultimately, Scrooge comes to realize the true meaning of kindness, generosity, and Christmas.
Equally as impressive as the richly decadent costumes and elaborate sets is Larry Yando’s transformation into Ebenezer Scrooge. With four previous seasons of experience, Yando still brings a fresh attitude to the role. He is best in his comedic scenes, where he seems most at ease. At the beginning of the piece, his attempts to be serious seemed a little affected, but when he is cracking jokes he could not seem more at home. He had the audience consistently laughing aloud, and was as endearing as the adorable Tiny Tim (played by Matthew Abraham) at times. Despite his acting seeming slightly forced when he is playing Scrooge at his crankiest, Yando does the role justice and always looks the part.
The stellar ensemble also deserves credit for the overall success of the piece. Of particular note are Nora Fiffer and Ron Rains, who play Belle and Bob Cratchit respectively. They are both convincing and have excellent chemistry with Yando. I don’t know if Rains has children, but his clear love and devotion to Tiny Tim in the show are touching, and seem heartbreakingly real.
There are four live musicians onstage playing music as parts of several scenes. The violin is beautiful, and the every piece evokes a traditional British feeling. The use of such music also really helps to envelop the audience and bring them into each scene. In particular, I enjoyed the use of the music in the party scene at Mr. Fezziwig’s house. It made the scene so lively I was sitting in my seat bopping up and down to the rhythm.
The only time that A Christmas Carol wavers from heartfelt and spirited is when it strays from classic and attempts to incorporate technology into the scenes. Strobes lights are used several times throughout the play, and they seem superfluous and are nauseating. They blink quickly and furiously, and I personally found them over stimulating. Additionally, the Ghost of Christmas Past is decorated in something akin to large white Lite Brites, which are distracting when she is standing in the back of scenes. Her distorted voice also becomes very grating after she delivers her first to lines. By the time she had been on stage for three minutes, every time she opened her mouth it was like nails on a chalkboard for me.
Even with these few small missteps, A Christmas Carol will have you leave smiling and more excited about the holiday’s than department store Christmas music ever could.
The show is two hours and runs through Dec. 31st. It is suitable for children of all ages.